Cal Raleigh was out on the field with his teammates more than an hour after ending baseball’s longest playoff drought, rounding the field’s edge to thank the tens of thousands of spectators who persisted.
The celebration resembled a victory in October more than it did a triumph on the last day of September. On their return to the playoffs after 21 years, the Seattle Mariners, though, might be forgiven for going a bit overboard.
The Mariners defeated the Oakland Athletics 2-1 on Friday night to claim a spot in the American League’s wild-card round. Raleigh blasted the game-winning home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Raleigh, filling in for Luis Torrens at the plate, singled off Domingo Acevedo (3-4) barely inside the right-field foul pole to give the Mariners their first postseason berth since 2001.
Seattle’s celebration on the field extended for more than 10 minutes as players and supporters eased the burden of having endured 20 years without seeing their baseball team make the playoffs.
That was only the beginning.
After a boisterous clubhouse celebration, Servais and his squad returned to the field nearly an hour later with the stands still mostly filled. He seized the opportunity to address the crowd, colorfully reiterating that when he and Jerry Dipoto, president of baseball operations, arrived seven years ago, the goal was to stop the “drought.”
The previous time the Mariners reached the postseason, they were headed by rookies Ichiro Suzuki and Edgar Martinez, under the direction of manager Lou Piniella. It had truly been a long wait.
The Mariners’ 86th victory, which returned them to the playoffs, occurred in the most tense manner imaginable, as has been the case for the majority of this season.
For eight innings, Seattle was powerless against Oakland starter Ken Waldichuk and a long line of relievers, with Ty France’s RBI double bringing Dylan Moore home two hitters in the game as their only relief.
For the first out of the ninth, Acevedo retired Mitch Haniger and Carlos Santana, but Raleigh delivered his 26th home run of the year, the most by a Seattle catcher in history.
Aside from securing a playoff position, Seattle maintained their lead over Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays in the race for the top wild-card spot, each team remaining 112 games behind the other.
However, on this particular night, the standings didn’t matter.
It was all about winning the last AL ticket and putting an end to 20 years of baseball without the assurance of the postseason.
The Sacramento Kings, who haven’t advanced past the first round of the NBA playoffs since the 2005–06 season, now hold the dubious distinction of having the longest active postseason drought in any of the four major professional sports after Seattle’s berth. The Mariners continue to be the only current team without a World Series appearance.
The Mariners tied a major league record by winning 116 games during the regular season the previous time they made the playoffs, but they were defeated 3-1 by the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series.
Logan Gilbert of Seattle pitched a career-high eight innings while giving up just three hits.
Shea Langeliers’ home run in the second inning was the lone error he made.
In each of his final four innings, Gilbert struck out the A’s in order while retiring 18 of the final 20 batters he faced. Despite walking to start the seventh inning, Seth Brown was out due to a double play.
A standing ovation and cries for a run from the crowd greeted Gilbert as he left the mound after the eighth inning after striking out four batters.
In the ninth inning, Matt Brash (4-4) got Raleigh started by striking out a pair of batters.